SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California officials still haven’t taken steps to better track how $2 billion a year in voter-approved funding for mental health programs is spent, despite a critical audit 19 months ago that alerted officials to the problems, according to a report released Thursday by a state watchdog.
Weak financial reporting and limited oversight of revenue have tainted Proposition 63, known as the Millionaire’s Tax, the Little Hoover Commission said in the report sent to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature.
“Twelve years and $17 billion later the state still can’t handily show the impacts of this funding, how it is spent or who is helped,” the report said.
Commission Chairman Pedro Nava, a former state lawmaker, said the panel heard many success stories from within the program, but too many were anecdotal and there was no statewide data to back up the transformative reports.
“If counties and the state can’t demonstrate the difference it makes for individuals, their families and California as whole, it may not survive,” Nava said in a news release accompanying the report.
The commission’s findings echoed those in an Associated Press investigation in 2012, a critical state audit in 2014, and the Little Hoover Commission’s previous review in 2015.
The AP found that tens of millions of dollars generated by the tax went to general wellness programs for people who had not been diagnosed with any mental illness. Those programs include yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. The state auditor reported similar findings a year later.
The state Department of Health Care Services, which oversees the mental health program, is committed to making sure the program “achieves what it was designed to do — expand services while improving the quality of life for Californians living with or at risk of serious mental illness,” director Jennifer Kent said in a written response.
She said the agency is working to address the issues raised by the commission through strengthened monitoring of county contracts and closer fiscal oversight of spending.
Lawmakers this year also approved legislation that would require counties and the state to compile annual spending reports and share information about programs they are operating to address mental health. The governor has until Sept. 30 to decide on the bill.
Voters approved a 1 percent tax on incomes over $1 million in 2004 as part of a ballot initiative that promised to boost funding to help the mentally ill, including prevention and early intervention programs. Counties are responsible for choosing and running their own programs, but an oversight commission was not established until eight years after the funding began, and it has little authority.
Unlike other ballot initiatives, Proposition 63’s language allows the Legislature to amend it with a two-thirds vote and to clarify the law if it is deemed necessary.
Spokespeople for the two top legislative leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Brown and lawmakers this year also agreed on a plan to divert a portion of the annual revenues from Proposition 63 to pay off bonds to build housing for the chronically homeless who suffer from mental illness.